Doctors do not want to be considered insensitive, embarrass their patients or say something that is hurtful. But, unfortunately, at times this happens. Hopefully, when it does happen, it is not done intentionally.
In the doctor-patient relationship, like all relationships, unfortunate comments may be made, usually not on purpose or deliberate. Or a benign comment by the doctor may be misinterpreted by the patient.
A recent article discussed the subject of doctors communicating with children and how some of the words they used were considered by the child to be insensitive and offensive. The authors of the article then presented words that could be used that are considered to be less offensive.
Is it offensive and insensitive to tell children who are overweight that they are obese or overweight? According to the results of this study, the answer is yes.
If these words should not be used, then what words can the doctor say that are considered to be less offensive? The researchers recommended using terms such as large or gaining too much weight. It is important that the words used to explain a diagnosis are clear, correct and easily understood.
Here is one approach that fulfills these criteria when explaining to the child the status of his or her weight situation. During the child’s routine physical examination, the weight is usually plotted on a growth chart. The doctor should review the growth chart with the child, showing the percentile he or she is in.
Children who are above the 95th percentile should be informed that this means they are heavier than most children their age and they are overweight. The word “overweight” clearly and honesty describes the child’s weight situation. It is a better description than telling the child that he or she is large.
Although doctors need to be sensitive concerning the words they use, they should not be so sensitive that it prevents and inhibits them from providing the patient with the correct diagnosis.
Doing this would be a disservice to both patient and family.Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio in Massachusetts, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.